Politico

New York’s mayor and council speaker were already at odds. Then the migrant crisis hit.

NEW YORK — Under fire for the national migrant crisis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams lashed out at an easy target“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2gjm3L32F8″,”_id”:”00000184-04ac-d796-abdc-6ffcf71e000a”,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000184-04ac-d796-abdc-6ffcf71e000b”,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>lashed out at an easy target: the City Council he sees as quick to criticize and slow to offer solutions.

He was responding to a public rebuke two days earlier from the leader of the body, Speaker Adrienne Adams, who took him to task over his handling of the situation. Since the spring, more than 21,000 Latin American asylum seekers have arrived here, many sent by Texas and in need of shelter, food and jobs.

The public sparring didn’t end there: Mayor Adams last week announced plans to set up a Manhattan intake facility minutes before the speaker (no relation) addressed reporters at her own routine press conference. Unaware of the news, she appeared confused when asked to respond to it — a disconnect that touched off another round of finger-pointing over the breakdown in communication.

The tension has spilled into public view in recent weeks as the officials try to quell concerns over the mushrooming crisis. It also underscores the tricky politics of the migrant crisis for a mayor who is fighting Republican governors around the country and fellow Democrats in his backyard.

But behind the scenes, it is just the latest point of discontent between the city’s two leading Democrats. The speaker and mayor have not met or spoken in a formal capacity since a phone call more than four weeks ago, according to her spokesperson, Mandela Jones. Mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy noted the two officials appeared together at an Oct. 6 school renaming but declined to cite their most recent scheduled meeting.

In fact, the speaker appeared only twice on the mayor’s official schedule during his first five months in office: For a 30-minute budget briefing on the morning of Feb. 16 and on a note to reschedule a meeting set for April 21. Then, as budget negotiations were heating up before a June 30 deadline, they met three more times, including over dinner at Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence. The detailed itinerary, disclosed through a public records request, does not capture spontaneous talks among staffers. Mayoral adviser Tiffany Raspberry, for example, has been briefing Council officials weekly since the crisis emerged.

It also represents a break in custom. While prior speakers and mayors often butted heads publicly, they still held regular check-ins.

In sum, what was touted as a friendly alliance when they assumed their respective jobs in January has devolved into a frosty association, according to their public statements as well as interviews with 10 people working on the migrant crisis, most of whom requested anonymity to speak freely about sensitive personnel matters.

“As we try to find hotels, I cannot tell you how many Council people, local electives, that are yelling, ‘House people’ but saying, ‘Not in my district,” the mayor recently said as he declared a state of emergency.

“The loudest have been the least benevolent,” he added at a news conference last week. “You can’t have it both ways. Either we’re in this together, or we’re not.”

The mayor has declined to identify the uncooperative Council members, and examples have been hard to come by. Republican Council Member Vickie Paladino voiced opposition to a proposed facility in her Queens district weeks ago, for example, and the plans were scrapped. She said in an interview she would support an emergency shelter elsewhere in her district, and City Hall attributed nixing the plans to a problem with a contractor.

In response to the mayor’s insinuations, the speaker released a list of 10 Manhattan hotels for City Hall to consider as temporary shelter for asylum seekers. A person with knowledge of the situation said administration officials are talking with operators of at least four of those locations.

“The mayor and I do communicate. Our schedules, of course, are really, really hectic right now with everything that’s going on, but we’re definitely in communication,” the speaker said during a brief interview shortly after the mayor’s “not in my district” remarks.

Asked when she last met with or spoke to him about the migrant crisis she added, “We haven’t spoken about this subject, per se, in a little while. We have met and seen each other at several locations and activities throughout the city, so those conversations are still ongoing.”

The mayor and speaker began their tenures on a friendly note, touting their shared roots in Southeast Queens and snapping a picture together at their mutual alma mater, Bayside High School. The mayor even dubbed their partnership the Adams & Adams Law Firm — despite pushing last year for a different candidate to lead the body, which serves as a check on his power. But a fight over public school funding erupted just as they were shaking hands on a municipal budget agreement in June, and the gulf between them has since deepened.

Now the Council — still angry about the education cuts — is preparing to pass a bill banning solitary confinement in city jails over the objections of the mayor and a personal appeal from city Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina. The two branches of city government are arguing over which agency should control outdoor dining. And they fought about how to redraw Council maps during a decennial redistricting process.

The feud is deepening as the city buckles under the weight of a national crisis that has taken hold here and threatens to undermine the officials’ response. Council members argue the administration has kept them in the dark about its plans to site temporary shelters in their districts, leading the mayor’s team to pick unsuitable locations like a tent facility in the Orchard Beach section of the Bronx that was hastily moved before it even opened. Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol told reporters this week that the city spent $325,000 tearing down the site and another $325,000 to rebuild the facility on Randall’s Island.

The mayor, meanwhile, says the city would have more space to house the migrants if legislators offered up locations in their districts — though he has yet to specify who he believes is eschewing responsibility.

Both sides privately gripe that the other is intentionally misrepresenting their position: The mayor’s team argues the Council is taking credit publicly for solutions City Hall was already implementing, like expanded use of hotels, while lawmakers say they have not refused to house asylum seekers in their neighborhoods.

Some mayoral aides were particularly annoyed that the speaker, in highlighting a New York Times editorial pushing for a more robust response, seemed to take credit for the suggestions.

“When you have decided you don’t want to engage in the real, critical work, gaslighting and pointing fingers is a helpful thing to do,” said Council member Alexa Avilés, one of the body’s most progressive members, said of the mayor. “I have 15 shelters in my community already. We have always been a part of solutions the city attempts, even when they are inadequate solutions. My community has stepped up.”

Avilés joined advocates and other Council members at a rally outside City Hall last week to call on the mayor to scrap the planned tent facility on Randall’s Island. Legislators have also demanded the city fill vacancies in key departments and release more rental vouchers to move people into permanent housing and free up space in transient homeless shelters.

“Throughout this process, we have worked with our partners at the City Council and will continue to do so as we tackle this crisis,” mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy said in a statement. “As the mayor has said, we are dealing with an emergency situation that often requires last minute, emergency responses, but the Council is still notified before every emergency shelter is opened. We will continue to work as expeditiously as possible to meet our moral and legal mandates.”

In the coming months, the Council’s leverage over the mayor will be on full display. The 51-member body will have say over a number of his priorities: midyear budget cuts, the citing of casinos in the five boroughs and a set of reforms intended to make way for more housing development.

Jones, the Council spokesperson, disputed that the mayor and speaker are ensnared in a protracted fight, and pointed to the new intake facility, which will open in a Midtown hotel, as an example of coordination.

“We’re not interested in a counterproductive back-and-forth, because it doesn’t help any New Yorker exit the shelter system or ensure adequate support services for asylum seekers,” Jones said. “It’s positive that the administration is pursuing an indoor location for a new [relief center], consistent with the Council’s policy suggestion for a more humane approach.”

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